When you think of the fashion capitals of the world, several cities may come to mind. New York City. London. Paris. Milan… But what about somewhere like Latvia? Unless you’re a die-hard European history buff or are a fan of the hit Netflix show “ Stranger Things ” (in which case, excellent taste), you probably haven’t heard much about Latvia or its capital city, Riga.
However, this small Baltic nation is home to a booming creative scene with a unique and unusual sense of style that’s catching the attention of the global fashion community. If you love edgy, under-the-radar fashion trends and are itching to break out of your typical comfort zone with something daring and different than what you see on every other city street corner, check out these five quirky fashions from Latvia that you won’t find anywhere else in the world
Latvian Tattoo Culture
Tattoos, in general, have been gaining popularity and acceptance across the world, but in one Latvian district, Riga’s Mežaparks, they’ve become almost a rite of passage into adulthood. Since the area is home to a large Russian population (about 31% of Riga’s population is Russian), the tradition of tattoos in Mežaparks has its roots in Russian culture. The Russian word for tattoo is “ письменный знак ”, which phonetically translates to “written sign”.
In the Russian Orthodox Church, tattoos are viewed as a sign of sin, so by getting a tattoo, Russians in Latvia were essentially thumbing their noses at the Church while still adhering to the cultural tradition. Since then, the tradition has kind of blended with the Latvian tattoo culture and has become a bit of an identity for the area. Now, tattoos are pretty much expected in Mežaparks, with the exception of public officials and school teachers.
Latvian Knitwear Culture
Knitwear is a staple in almost every culture, but the Latvian take on it is truly one of a kind. Latvians are notorious for their knitwear and have become known in the fashion industry for their intricate designs and patterns. More specifically, Latvian knitted shawls are one of the most fascinating aspects of the culture. Known as “ šalga ” (or “ shawl ”), these knit items have a long history in Latvia dating back to the 1800s.
Since knitting is such a large part of Latvian culture, it’s no surprise that many people turn to knit as a hobby or even a side job. If you visit Riga’s Central Market, you’ll likely be bombarded with a huge variety of knitted items, accessories, and clothing.
Latvian Print Culture
Latvia’s love for bold, bright prints began in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union, with its strong appreciation for the arts, occupied Latvia. During the Soviet occupation, Latvia, along with much of the rest of the Baltic region, was forced to adopt many Soviet-style cultural and economic policies. One of these policies was a love for avant-garde and abstract art.
Since Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union, many of the artists who were native to the country were forced to relocate to other parts of the Soviet Union. However, this opened up a whole new world of creative opportunities for artists in places like Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.
The result was a merging of the Soviet and Latvian artistic cultures, and mixing of exhibition styles and mediums, including the adoption of bold color prints.
Latvian Streetwear Culture
Streetwear was actually born in the United States, but the genre has become hugely popular in Latvia, especially among the youth. There are several brands that are manufactured in Latvia, including K-Swiss and Adidas.
There is also a popular streetwear festival in Latvia called “ FITUR ” that began in 2015 and has continued to grow in popularity since then. FITUR offers a wide variety of activities, including photo exhibitions, concerts, workshops, and seminars with a focus on streetwear. There are also a number of online streetwear shopping sites in Latvia, like sportswear.lv, where you can shop for a wide variety of brands.
Latvia’s Unique Handcrafting Tradition
Latvia has a long history of handcrafted items, like their famous woven shawls, that are still being made by skilled artisans today. The Kurzemes un Boleru kaftanas, which are traditional woven shawls made of silk, wool, and linen, are still being handcrafted by women in the rural areas of Kurzeme and Zemgale.
There are more than 40 traditional items that are still handcrafted in Latvia, including sheepskin slippers known as “ šešu Indiens ”, Christmas decorations, and woollen socks. These items are very collectible and have become prized by collectors around the world.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Latvia, don’t miss the chance to pick up one of these unique handmade items as a souvenir. You’ll be able to appreciate them even more knowing how much hard work and craftsmanship went into making them.
The world is a big place, and with as many cultures and subcultures as there are, it’s easy to assume that every place and every people are the same. When you really stop to think about it, though, there are so many different ways of life and so many different ways of expressing yourself that you’re bound to find something that catches your eye and captures your heart.
Thankfully, the internet has made it easier than ever before to connect with people and places that you’re interested in, and it’s also made it easier than ever to learn more about them and their culture, even if they’re on the other side of the world. So if there’s something you’ve always been curious about, do your research and learn all you can. You never know what you might discover along the way.